“in order that you may be without blame and pure, children of God, without blemish in a generation that is bent and perverted, in which you might shine as lights in the world,”
What does it mean to be without blame and pure? Certainly, as fallen people, we cannot achieve this state here on earth on this side of the eternal veil, can we? Could Paul be speaking of the imputed righteousness of Christ here — that righteousness given to us in our salvation by Christ who paid the penalty for our sins? First of all, we will never realize full sanctification here on earth on this side of heaven unless Jesus happens to return swiftly. We will struggle against sin for all of our days; such is the lot for the believer in this world and such is the way that God purifies us for heaven…it was good enough for Jesus to enter heaven through the road of the cross, why do we balk at our own suffering so?
At the same time, in context, this does not seem that Paul is speaking of the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to the believer. Why? Because that righteousness is a one-time measure that permits us to stand blameless before the presence of God in judgment and Paul is speaking of the importance of striving and laboring toward this on earth.
Thus what we are seeing, in context, is the goal to which believers are to strive. It is indeed a lofty goal, but it is toward that goal that marks us as children of God. People often comment to me, “Isn’t every human being God’s child?” While such is commonly taught in the society, it is not taught in the Bible. A mark of being God’s child is that it is toward blamelessness and purity that we are to strive. If we are not interested in striving toward such things or if we pursue that which is sin, that is a sign that we are children of the Devil (see 1 John 3:4-10 with emphasis on verse 10). There are two races of people throughout history…the children of God and the children of the Devil…a designation that goes all of the way back to Genesis 3:15 but that Jesus also echoes in his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30).
Our job, then, as believers, is to strive to live in such a way that our lives are unblemished and given entirely to Christ. Does this mean that we will never fall into sin? Of course not. There was a movement in Wesleyanism that was called the “Holiness” movement which argued that with a sort of second conversion experience, you could complete your sanctification on earth and never sin again. Apart from causing many to shipwreck their faith over doubts and a lack of security, it also caused many to shipwreck their faith in pride and arrogance arguing that they had not sinned in “x” number of years (see 1 John 1:8 and 10 for an Apostolic comment on this idea). Thus as believers, we will sin, but when we do (this is 1 John 1:9), and we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, as forgiven Children of God, we are to live as those who are unblemished by this twisted world — like living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) — like unblemished Passover Lambs just as our Master and Lord was the unblemished Passover Lamb.
Why? So we might shine as lights in the world around us. The language that Paul employs is a word picture of the stars in the night sky. Have you ever been out on a very dark night, but the heavens are filled with the light of the stars? That is the idea. We cannot shine like the Sun…that is Jesus’ place and he does through his Word. But as we take that Word of God and apply it to all areas of life, we also shine that light in the darkness…and if the light of the stars is bright enough, you can see a great deal in this world. May we intentionally be such lights.
“I saw the night and behold, a man riding on a red horse!” –Zechariah 1: 8a
It may seem to be an odd expression to “see the night.” But isn’t this so often the gift that God gives to his servants? We look out into this world and we begin to recognize how dark it really is out there. Even when the sun is shining brightly, if the people of God are suffering, then darkness abounds. It is impossible for the unbeliever to understand this, for their eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness of their sin, but when the eyes of a Christian are opened they will often become overwhelmed by the darkness around us.
This is the same idea, I believe, that Jude is getting at when he speaks of the fallen angels being bound in darkness until final judgment. They are bound, but bound on earth. How is this earth dark? For when you have been in the presence of the Lord of Glory, even the brightest day on earth is but pitch-blackness.
Yet, God does not leave his people to mourn over the darkness alone. Here he sends Zechariah a series of visions. The pre-incarnate Christ has come to him riding on a warhorse, surrounded by angels on warhorses. This is a vision that is a reminder to all of us that though this world might be dark with sin, God is still sovereign over it. God is in command of all things. It is also a reminder that if we look to Revelation 6, we will see the power of these horsemen and the things which they have been doing as they have been at work in the world. These images in Revelation, then, are no demonic horsemen, but angelic heralds of judgment at the beck and command of the Son of God!
Though we oftentimes feel the darkness of the world closing in on us, let us be reminded whose hands we are in. God is in command of the night as well as the day. It is interesting that “Carpe Diem!” is the cry of the secular world. “Seize the day,” indeed! Yet, a life consumed by sin does not know the light of day at all. Our cry as Christians, in a sense, should be “Carpe Noctum!” for it is our job, as Christians, to seize the night, shining the light of Jesus Christ into this sin-darkened world and proclaim the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Not only can we seize the night, but we can also walk confidently in it, knowing that the God we proclaim is the God who is in control of all things.